WAYS TO CATCH FLUKE
Capt. Al Lorenzetti
Fluke fishing is the staple for summer fishing around most of Long Island. Almost everyone new to the sport of saltwater fishing begins with fluke fishing. Most fishing for these aggressive flat fish takes place during the vacation months of July and August. However, in early May, these fish move to the inshore waters from the deep waters of the Continental Shelf where they spend the winter. They remain on the inshore grounds into October. Some of the finest fluke fishing can be had in those months when few people fish for this species. Donít overlook Spring and Fall fishing for fluke.
Fluke are kind of funny looking. They are flat and donít give the impression of being an aggressive predatory fish. Do not for one minute let looks deceive! These fish will chase bait with all the ferocity of a bluefish. Their diet is also essentially the same as a bluefish with the exception being they feed at the bottom of the water column. Because of these similarities, fluke can be caught using many of the same lures and baits that attract bluefish. For years this fact has been overlooked by most anglers. The real fluke sharpies picked up on this long ago and kept the information to themselves. Recently some tackle manufacturers began marketing artificial lures specifically for fluke. A few fishing articles and lecturers have touted the effectiveness of
artificials. As a result, the news is beginning to spread to the public and people are starting to consider trying new techniques.
Why use artificials to catch fluke when bait will also work? Artificials will actually catch more fish and bigger fish under certain conditions. If they are worked properly they present a more realistic and enticing target. They will not be affected by crab attacks as much as natural bait. Fish hooked on an artificial will fight harder and this adds to the fun. The downside to fishing artificials for fluke is the need to constantly work the lure. I donít mind it at all because of the excitement of the strike and the action it produces. If your desire is to sit back, sip a drink and watch the rod tip waiting for a strike then this type of fishing is not for you.
The old "stand-by" squid strip with a spearing or killie will catch fish as always. For the beginner it is probably the best way to get started. For those who wish to get the most from their fluke fishing, adding artificials to your tackle arsenal will improve your catch. Bait still has a place in this fishery. How about considering some new techniques for fishing with bait? A couple of less well known bait fishing techniques will work wonders in certain conditions. Try something new and you might be pleasantly surprised.
I will review 10 strategies utilizing
artificials, natural dead bait and live bait. Before getting to specific strategies, a few basics are in order.
When fishing any artificial lure I always use a short trace of leader material and a barrel swivel. I prefer one foot of 20 lb. fluorocarbon leader material. It is almost invisible in the water, adding to the natural appearance of the lure. I tie it to a small barrel swivel to which the running line from the reel is tied. This swivel will eliminate line twist that will occur during the course of jigging the lure.
I also have become a proponent of multifilament lines when fishing
artificials. Gel-spun lines are best because normal fishing knots may be used. Their non-stretch characteristic makes for excellent hook setting power. Their narrow diameter allows the use of lighter weight lures in fast moving water. These are great advantages when fishing lead-head or other weighted artificial lures. All hooks must be sharpened to a needle point and checked constantly during the course of fishing.
When fishing bait it is essential that it be as fresh as possible. Do not buy freezer burned bait. If possible buy fresh dead bait or catch your own. Live bait, primarily live killies or snappers, are excellent all the time. I prefer wide gap hooks in 2/0 to 4/0 size for fishing bait. Their design produces an excellent hook-up ratio with fluke and most often the fish are mouth hooked.
With these basics in mind, let me review some strategies that have worked well for me over the years and some that are new to the scene.
STRATEGY #1 - THE BUCKTAIL
This is my all-time favorite artificial lure. I prefer white or lime-green colors in ĺ or 1 oz. size. Ball head style is fine but a sharp nosed bullet design will work well in fast moving water. I trim the bucktail to just behind the hook. I usually fish it tipped-off with a short strip of pork rind with a split tail. White pork rind or green seems to work best. I work the bucktail along the bottom with a fairly slow jigging stroke. I lift the tip of the rod about two feet and slowly let the lure settle back to the bottom, never letting slack develop in the line. I let it lay on the bottom for a fraction of a second and then begin the cycle again. The strike will always come on the drop or as the lure sits on the bottom. I am always prepared to strike the fish aggressively. Sharp hooks are a must.
STRATEGY #2 - THE "SILVER BULLET"ô
This new lure was developed a couple of years ago and has earned a place of distinction as a very productive artificial. Essentially it is a chrome plated ball with a free swinging bucktail or feather adorned hook. The ball and hook are available in a number of sizes to suite fishing needs. I especially like this feature. If I must fish deep water or fast current I would have to use a large
bucktail, the larger bucktails however have hooks that are too large for fluke. I can get a 3 oz. "Silver-Bullet" with a 2/0 hook which is perfect for fluke. A 3 oz. bucktail would be manufactured with a 4/0 to 6/0 size hook, much too large for the average fluke.
When purchasing tackle please be aware of imitations. When a lure becomes popular, it never fails that some "opportunist" will try to copy the original and take advantage of the market. Keep in mind that a lot of research goes into the design of the "original" and copies most often do not work as well. I recommend sticking with the real thing.
I work the "Silver-Bullet" in much the same way as the
bucktail. However, I have found that this lure will catch fish if it is just dragged along the bottom or simply worked with a twitching action of the rod, much shorter strokes than with the
bucktail. Just like the bucktail, it will catch any other kind of fish in the neighborhood. Bass blues and weakfish canít resist it.
STRATEGY #3 THE "TEASER" RIG
The addition of a bucktail, mylar or feathered "teaser" hook above the primary lure began with the surf crowd a few years back. This "teaser" is usually tied on a short leader about a foot above whatever lure, jig or plug is being used. Fluke fishermen have found that it adds extra attraction to the primary offering. On some occasions it will out-fish the primary lure. I prefer the simple bucktail variety in white, black/white or olive/white colors. I use a small three-way swivel or a "Bear Paw" plastic connector to attach the "teaser" on a one foot leader slightly more than a foot above my sinker or jig. Some prefer the "teaser" on a long leader trailing behind a
bucktail. This type rig is marketed as the "Terminator." When the lure is worked along the bottom, the teaser flutters with an enticing irregular motion above or behind the primary bait or jig. Itís a real attention-getter. I have caught fluke on the "teaser" which means they will come off the bottom a good distance if they are teased enough. The only problem I have had with this rig is catching two fish at the same time. When this happens they fight against each other and usually one or both are lost. I have also had two good size bass hooked at the same time and they actually broke the line between the jig and "teaser." I guess worse things could happen?
STRATEGY #4 "PLASTICS"
Who said plastics were only good for weakfish? Fluke love them. Lead heads with lime-green grub-tails are deadly on fluke. Other colors are effective as well with white working best in murky water. Remember the old "Salty Dog" weakfish jig. It really catches fluke especially in the back-bay areas. Keep the plastics on the small side. Fluke do not have a large round mouth that can inhale a long rubber offering like big weakfish can do to a nine inch
jellyworm. Three to four inch twister tail grubs on a 1 oz. lead-head jig are just perfect.
STRATEGY #5 "THE CAROLINA RIG WITH FLOAT AND STOP"
The "Carolina Rig" is nothing more than an egg sinker tied above a barrel swivel and the hook with leader on the other side of the swivel. It is the most common rig used in the South. What makes this rig so effective is that the line can slide through the egg sinker allowing the fish to pick up the bait and swallow it without feeling the weight of the sinker. I have found it to be an excellent rig to use for casting with natural bait or unweighted
artificials. It works especially well in shallow areas along the edges of sandbars or channels. I modify the basic rig to some degree for this application. I add a float midway along the leader to keep the bait off the bottom. The float can be eliminated if fishing rubber grubs etc. on a plain hook because the rubber floats. I also add a small split shot about a foot above the egg sinker to stop the sinker from sliding up the line on the cast. This still allows for the fish to get one foot of unencumbered drop back to swallow the bait. Try this with a live
killie, it really works.
STRATEGY #6 "SLIP-FLOAT" FOR FISHING THE FLATS OR FROM SHORE
How do you present a bait to fish in shallow water especially in areas that might have a lot of debris or grass on the bottom? The answer is to suspend the bait above the bottom on some type of float. The next problem is that the water might be eight feet deep. How do you cast a float with bait on a hook, six or more feet below it? Very difficult at best. The answer to this is the slip-float. This float has a thin, hollow plastic tube running through the middle. To fish a bait at a depth of six feet I tie a knot in the line about six feet from the end of the line. The knot will not pass through the small hole in the tube but will pass easily through the guides of the rod. I thread the float on the leader then add a couple of split shots just above the hook which is tied to the end of the line. The "slip-float" will slide down to the split shot and stop above the hook for the cast. When it is cast out, the split shot will sink the baited hook until the knot reaches the tube. If all is right it will be suspended at a depth of six feet which would be just above the bottom. A live killie or worm swimming just above the bottom when fishing the flats and edges is deadly on fluke and weakfish. I know of some lunker fluke caught using this method. It is especially effective when used from shore in calm waters.
STRATEGY #7 SLOW-TROLLING DURING SLACK TIDE
When drifting for fluke, slack water means no action. Because there is no movement, the area covered is reduced to nothing and so is the fishing. Crabs usually take over during slack and try to wipe out your bait supply. During this time I usually revert to slow-trolling. I like to fish a squid/spearing combination and prefer a chrome spinner blade or "Spin-n-Glow" in front of the hook. I increase the sinker weight to about 6 oz.. I put the boat in gear and drop back the line about 75 feet and set the rod in the rod-holder. I then work the boat in and out of gear just enough to maintain slow forward motion and still have the sinker bouncing along the bottom. While doing this I watch the rod tip. When the tip indicated a bite, I take the boat out of gear, pick up the rod, drop the tip to let the fish get on the bait, and strike the fish. This technique can produce good fishing during what would otherwise be wasted time.
STRATEGY #8 CHUMMING FLUKE
This technique dates back as long as I can remember but is practiced by few. It can be extremely productive even in times of lean fishing. It will also work well when the water is churned or murky due to algae blooms. I anchor up in a promising area, preferably a distance away from all the boat traffic. I set a chum pot loaded with ground bunker on the bottom or just slightly above the bottom. A moving tide is a must as it will carry the chum back from the boat and act as an attractant to any fluke in the area. I then fish behind the chum pot with natural baits, live baits or jigs. I like to fish a live killie about a foot above the sinker on a three foot leader on a "dead stick" which is a rod in the rod-holder. I then work a second rod and bounce a bucktail or other artificial by dropping it just behind the chum pot and bouncing it along the bottom as I "walk" it back with the tide. If the "dead stick" gets a hit, I can quickly grab the rod and set the hook. This method has produced excellent catches even under the most adverse conditions and often bluefish weakfish and bass are caught in the process. Itís kind of laid back and is an excellent choice when fishing with small children. Kids like lots of action and this strategy will usually provide it.
STRATEGY #9 FISHING REEF AND WRECK EDGES FOR "DOORMATS"
Fluke are attracted to bottom structure just as is any other predatory fish. They like to cruise the edges of wrecks and reef piles looking for an unsuspecting baitfish. Very often it is the largest of fluke that inhabit these areas. This is the place that offers the opportunity to catch "doormat" fluke, fish 5 lb. or bigger. Of course this involves more boating expertise but it is worth the effort. Locate a suitable piece of structure using LORAN, GPS and your recorder. Mark the piece with a couple of buoys so you know the way it lays and where the outer edges are. If it is in water over 30 feet deep then fish multifilament line. Fish with larger than normal baits if you really want a big fish. I prefer a six inch strip of squid or fluke belly with a large spearing or smelt. If it is late in the season, live snappers are the best. Drift just off the edges of the structure to prevent snagging. Work the whole perimeter of the structure before moving to a new piece. This kind of fluke fishing may not provide a lot of action but the quality of the fish will makes it worthwhile. This is the surest way to catch a trophy fluke.
STRATEGY #10 FLY-FISHING FOR FLUKE
Most fly-fishing enthusiasts donít consider fluke as a target. I have found however that they can be caught and provide excellent action and a real challenge. Because they hug the bottom, sinking lines and shallow water is a must. I prefer to work the edges of channels and sandbars. I like to anchor so that I can cast into the shallow water and then let the fly drop down the edge. In certain places it is better to anchor in the shallows, cast into the deep water, let the line settle to the bottom and work it up the bank. Which method to use depends upon tide, wind and weed conditions. The fishing itself is quite simple. A very slow, short stripping action usually works well. My favorite fly pattern is a
"Clouser Minnow" in olive and white. Any descent sand eel imitation fly will work well. If you fly-fish, give this a try. If you do not fly-fish then I recommend you consider it for the future. Fly-fishing is very challenging and very exciting. You wonít catch as many fish as you would using other methods but what you do catch most memorable.
I hope that these strategies will be helpful to you and your fishing enjoyment. Trying different things is a lot of fun especially when it works! These techniques can definitely add to your fishing pleasure and put a few good ones in your cooler. Remember to keep only what you will use. Conservation is everyoneís responsibility.
Captain Al Lorenzetti